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Speculation High on Blagojevich Resignation; Blagojevich Scandal, a Distraction to the Incoming President; Iraqi Reporter Hurls a Pair of Shoes at President Bush

Aired December 15, 2008 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Today, now will the defiant, disgraced governor go?


CHETRY: Pounding the drums of impeachment. Emergency powwow with the state legislature.

BLAGOJEVICH: Let me just wish everybody a happy holidays.

CHETRY: Plus, impact of the shoe shock around the world.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's the height of insult to throw your shoe at someone.

CHETRY: As the president rallies (ph).

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?

CHETRY: We're live in Baghdad on this AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: You can watch that all day. That was astounding to watch it.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CO-ANCHOR: I know. It's all over the papers.


CHETRY: The president --

COSTELLO: This is Kiran's favorite. "Shoe-icide attack."

CHETRY: Yes. And what was it? Do you have the "New York Post" as well?

COSTELLO: No. Someone stole it. It was so (INAUDIBLE) everything talking.

CHETRY: Lame-duck. Get it, lame duck? COSTELLO: Oh, yes. And he ducked.

CHETRY: Because he ducked twice. Pretty sharp reflexes. We'll be talking more about that this morning.

Welcome, by the way. It's Monday, December 15th. I'm Kiran Chetry and we have Carol Costello with us again. Good to see you.

COSTELLO: John Roberts is still off watching C-SPAN.

CHETRY: He's watching us, I'm sure.

COSTELLO: Right now, let's start the day (ph), shall we.

President Bush is on his way back home after a surprise farewell visits to Iraq and Afghanistan this weekend. The president landing at Bagram Air Base overnight for a final salute to U.S. troops. Mr. Bush also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Of course, that was the wrong video. Earlier his trip to Iraq had him dodging some unfriendly fire. That's what you just saw. An Iraqi journalist threw a pair of shoes at the president during a press conference and yelled in Arabic, This is a farewell, dog." The president managed to duck out of the way. In Arab culture, throwing a shoe is the rudest of insults.

You may have voted more than a month ago but today is the day the nation formally elects its next commander in chief. Members of the electoral college will assemble in their state capitals to cast their vote for president and vice president. The group gathers every four years on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. Electors usually cast a ballot for the popular vote winner.

And surfing the web at 30,000 feet is about to get a little easier. Tomorrow, Delta Air Lines will begin offering wireless Internet service on about half of its shuttle flights between Washington and New York and between New York and Boston. The service starts at about $9 and Delta says it hopes to have its entire fleet equipped with wi-fi by the end of next year. Voice calls are still not allowed.

CHETRY: Well, speculation is high this morning that disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will resign today. That announcement could come as the state House and Senate move forward to remove the governor from office. So far, Blagojevich has ignored repeated calls to step down since his arrest for what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald calls a political corruption crime spree.

CNN's Drew Griffin is live in Chicago with more on this. And, Drew, we heard from the attorney general, Lisa Madigan, of the possibility that he could make that announcement today, something that his group is denying. So what is the story?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think we'll have to wait and see. All we do know is the governor met almost eight hours, almost the entire day yesterday with a very high profile criminal defense attorney, the same guy that represented Conrad Black and R. Kelly. And at least for right now, according to his press secretary, the governor is not resigning.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): It may be a cold day in Chicago, but the governor is feeling the heat.

PAT QUINN, ILLINOIS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: I hope the governor does resign. I think that's best for the people of Illinois as well as for himself and his family.

GRIFFIN: The Illinois legislature meets today to talk about stripping him of power or outright impeachment.

LISA MADIGAN, ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: It is absolutely obvious that he is incapable of governing and the best thing to do is to move aside.

GRIFFIN: At the same time, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is trying to get the Supreme Court to declare Blagojevich unfit for office, but will Blagojevich give them a chance?

MADIGAN: We have heard that there is a possibility that tomorrow he will make an announcement that he will step aside.

GRIFFIN: His office denies it and there are signs he's preparing for a fight. He spent nearly eight hours Sunday talking to a high- priced Chicago attorney known for helping big shots in a bind, but gave little hint as to his next move on the way out.

BLAGOJEVICH: There'll be an appropriate time to talk about this. But let me just wish everybody happy holidays and things will work out just fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rumor is you intend to resign. Is that true or false?

BLAGOJEVICH: I just think you should all have a great holiday season.

GRIFFIN: One issue could be money. The governor accused of trying to sell a Senate seat is said to be in a tough spot financially. One option could allow him to step aside but keep his salary.

MADIGAN: I have heard as well that that is one of his main concerns is his financial circumstances right now.


GRIFFIN: Kiran, the drama is taking place in Springfield now, and it's Lisa Madigan, the attorney general's father who is kind of steering things behind the lines. He is the House Speaker, Mike Madigan. The Democrats in Illinois want Blagojevich to go, but most importantly they themselves want to be able to appoint that open U.S. Senate seat. The Republicans are saying it's time for a special election. So while you have all this Blagojevich drama going on on the headlines behind the scenes, you have Republicans and Democrats fighting over what's going to happen with the open U.S. Senate seat vacated by the president-elect, Barack Obama.

CHETRY: Well, it's politics. So it's understandable, right? Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

COSTELLO: Yes. The charges of brazen corruption involving the governor of your home state, not exactly what Barack Obama wants to be dealing with 36 days before he takes office. As the Blagojevich scandal grows, some Republicans are trying to make it stick to the president-elect.

CNN's Jim Acosta is following that part of the story for us. He's live in Washington this morning.

Hello, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. The longer this scandal drags on, the more of a distraction it becomes for the incoming president.



BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Right now, my main focus is to make sure that we elect Rod Blagojevich as governor. We --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you working hard for Rod?

OBAMA: You bet you.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Complete with eerie music, this Republican National Committee Web site video has the feel of a campaign attack ad, highlighting Barack Obama's past ties to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and questioning the president-elect's handling of the scandal. The problem is not all Republicans approved that message.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: In all due respect to the Republican National Committee and anybody, right now I think we should try to be working constructively together.

ACOSTA: Even conservative Sean Hannity has noted what federal prosecutors have made clear that there are no allegations of wrongdoing facing the next president.

SEAN HANNITY, HANNITY & COLMES: If anything, the governor expressed frustration that Obama wouldn't give him anything. Now I think that's fairly exculpatory for him. OBAMA: What I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal making around my Senate seat.

ACOSTA: Still, Mr. Obama's promise to detail any conversations between his staff and Blagojevich has the nation's capital waiting in suspense. Various news accounts say incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, did have contact with the governor's office about possible candidates for Mr. Obama's Senate seat. But CNN has learned Emanuel is not a target of the Blagojevich investigation.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think this is a distraction. In fact, we're now into the fifth day without a report on exactly who said what to whom.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think overall this is a nuisance.

ACOSTA: A veteran observer of the Chicago political CNN and CNN contributor Roland Martin says there's one big reason to take plenty of time addressing the matter.

MARTIN: Get it right coming out of the gate. They cannot afford to come out and release a report or whatever and say here are the contacts and then something else comes out later saying no, here are some other contacts.


ACOSTA: Illinois' attorney general says she's heard Governor Blagojevich may offer his resignation soon. That along with the promised disclosure from the Obama transition team could help push this Chicago political storm out to sea or out to Lake Michigan as the case may be, Carol.

COSTELLO: We'll see. Jim Acosta live in Washington this morning.

President-elect Barack Obama will begin today with the first meeting of his national security team. Sources telling CNN, secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton will attend along with Vice President-elect Joe Biden and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

And at a news conference later today, Obama will formally announce his team to address energy and the environment. You can see it live on CNN and at 5:00 Eastern.

CHETRY: Well, if you were out doing some shopping this weekend, you know the stores are bustling but shoppers seem to be holding back on their holiday spending even though they're out at the malls. According to one research group, sales of big ticket items, those priced at $1,000 or more, have plunged by more than 34 percent compared to last year. Clothes and electronics also down by more than 22 percent. Experts say this could be the worst holiday shopping season in decades.

And home values have tumbled in the last year expecting to shrink by $2 trillion from the previous year. So could now be the time to buy? Christine Romans taking a look at some of the silver linings on the tough times.

Eight minutes after the hour.

COSTELLO: The big shoe attack. After the president's surprise trip turns ugly.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?


COSTELLO: Michael Ware is live in Baghdad with the aftermath of an insult.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


COSTELLO: You know, that was something else. President Bush doing his best duck and cover during his farewell tour of Iraq after an angry Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at him during a news conference. Mr. Bush had just finished remarks hailing a new security agreement with Iraq when that bizarre incident occurred. CNN's Michael Ware is live in Baghdad to tell us more.

Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Yes, President Bush certainly showed the reflexes of a boxer there with that cat-like maneuver as he ducked. And obviously, we would all be thankful for that.

Now, President Bush has left Iraq. He's actually indeed visited Afghanistan since this incident. So, but no matter how short the president's trip was, it did include some of the most extraordinary things and we'd like to show you.


WARE (voice-over): This will be something few in Iraq will ever forget, shoes hurled at the president by an Iraqi TV correspondent who's quickly tackled. The journalist from Al-Baghdadia television called the president a dog in Arabic and cried this is your farewell. When calm was restored, President Bush sort of brushed the incident aside.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?

WARE: And then tried to turn it into a positive.

BUSH: I know what the guy's cause is. But one thing is for certainly, he caused you to ask me a question about it. I didn't feel the least bit threatened by it. These journalists here were very apologetic. They were, you know, they said this doesn't represent the Iraqi people, but that's what happens in free societies where people try to draw attention to themselves.

WARE: For Iraqis, throwing shoes is the rudest of insults, reserved for the likes of a statue of Saddam Hussein or somewhat prophetically, an effigy of President Bush himself just weeks ago. But this trip, the president's fourth and last, was meant to be a farewell and a celebration, one to thank his troops.

BUSH: I am honored to be at Camp Victory.

WARE: And to applaud a new deal with Baghdad called SOFA, the Status of Forces Agreement, governing a complete non-negotiable U.S. troop withdrawal within three years. It's the beginning of the end to the U.S. phase of this war, though the president declared the war not yet over. And while President Bush hails the agreement a success, some American officials on the ground see it as far less. To them, it's merely the best that could be gained from a weak negotiating position.


WARE: And what we know now that as we speak, this morning the Iraqi journalist who threw those shoes at President Bush is still in Iraqi government custody. Indeed, the prime minister's office here has told us that he's being investigated for assaulting the prime minister, arguing that giving that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was there on the podium as well, it's not easy to say who exactly he threw the shoes at.

However, today, there's been quite some reaction to the incident here in Baghdad. We had a large demonstration in the Shia stronghold of those slums of Sadr City. It became an outlet for anti-American feeling with American flags being burned and call for this Iraqi journalist, himself a Shia, to be released. However, that will have to be determined by the Iraqi authorities and goodness knows which way they are going to turn on that -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, I was going to ask you that. What might happen to him in the end? Might he serve a long sentence? What will happen?

WARE: Well, this is going to be a real test. I mean President Bush tried to turn this to his advantage by citing this in fact as an act of democracy, a sign of the progress here, clearly an exercise of free speech. I'm not sure how this Iraqi government sees something like that. Obviously it's been noted by many here that if this happened under Saddam it wouldn't have happened under Saddam. The guy would have quickly found himself dead.

However, here on the street, opinions divided. While most Iraqis can relate to the statement, to the message, some people support what he's done and then treating him like a national hero, while others say that's just really wasn't good form to show to a guest, Carol.

COSTELLO: Not good form at all. We'll be watching. Michael Ware live in Baghdad this morning. Thank you.

CHETRY: Well, home values have tumbled $2 trillion this year. Could now be the right time to buy a new home? Christine Romans, looking for the silver lining, is "Minding Your Business" next.

Also, President-elect Barack Obama shifting his attention to national security. We'll tell you who he's meeting with and what's on the agenda.

It's 16 1/2 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Christine Romans is here, "Minding Your Business" for us on this Monday morning. And wow, have times have changed from, you know, it's the end of the world for the autos on Friday, now it looks like there is a glimmer of hope.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, and we talked about this on Friday. Could they use that bailout money potentially to try to help the automakers? And the White House on Friday said that it would consider that among other options. All the options are on the table. No big announcement over the weekend. Nothing expected again today but we know that the White House is working with the automakers trying to find out how they can possibly used what's left of that bailout money to help those automakers.

There is about $15 billion left for this administration to spend if it wants of that $700 billion. Half of it -- half of that money has been approved by Congress but they have to go back and ask for it. That's how -- it's almost all gone. $350 billion.

CHETRY: So the exact amount left over to spend is the exact amount the automakers needed in the first place (ph) right now.

ROMANS: Interesting, yes.

We'll look at this week. We'll look this week to see just what could happen. But the options of the White House says it's not ruling out any options that the White House will step in because Congress failed to act. And the Treasury Department said after saying for weeks that the money was not appropriate, the bank money was not appropriate for autos. The Treasury Department now says they will step into it when they can to stabilize the industry.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about personal finances, shall we?


COSTELLO: Because -- yes -- oh, it might be a good time to buy something, but what?

ROMANS: If you are bold and you are solvent, people are starting to look about these low mortgage rates and wondering if this is a time for them to step in and buy a home here. And this is the number one question I've been getting from people. In fact, if you look at some of the retrieval statistics on line. That's a lot of the questions that people are asking and stories they're pulling up on line, they're about whether it's now time to buy a home.

CHETRY: If you can get a loan for one?

ROMANS: Well, if you are bold and you're solvent. So that's what I keep saying. I mean, you have to be in pretty good position and have a really good -- a really good credit score. The best position to be in, of course, is if you don't already have a home right now that you're trying to sell, if you don't have a home that's underwater.

This is report. This is a real estate tracker. They tracked 163 different markets and all but 30 of those markets are showing price declines. Over the past year, and so far this year, the home prices are down 8.4 percent. So if you're going in to buy, I mean, the prices are down. $2 trillion of market value is lost. And there are a lot of distressed sellers out there; 11.7 million homeowners are underwater in their loan, meaning they owe more on the house than the house it's worth.

COSTELLO: I'm telling you my best friend is a real agent. Business has come to a standstill.

ROMANS: Really.

COSTELLO: Nothing is moving. This is in Baltimore. Nothing.

ROMANS: This is why it is the buyers market if you can -- you know, if you are careful, too. Because when you look at the Zillow report, they're looking for any kind of signs of bottoming and don't really see it. They say that the good news where there is good news is that price depreciation in places like San Diego and San Francisco and a couple of in Pensacola, Florida, are slowing. But price depreciation is slowing still means that those prices are going down.

CHETRY: Right.

ROMANS: So people ask me this all the time, is it time to buy? You have to be very, very brave but mortgage rates are falling. Mortgage rates are definitely falling, and will likely continue to fall.

CHETRY: All right. Christine, thanks.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Thanks so much.

The state of Illinois politics up in the air as we speak. And as the chorus calling for the governor's resignation gets louder, Rod Blagojevich seems oblivious to it all. So will he resign? And how will the scandal change Chicago politics?

And surviving a layoff. What you need to know if you've lost your job or fear you could be laid off in the near future. Personal finance editor Gerri Willis has some important advice for you.

It's 22 minutes past the hour.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're currently facing federal charges for attempting to sell to the highest bidder the Illinois Senate left vacant of Senator Obama. Why do you feel entitled to a government bailout?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, PLAYING GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH: First of all, senator, because it was a federal prosecutor who spiked my deal to sell the Senate seat in the first place. And second, because if I don't get this bailout, I swear to God, I will appoint some psycho mother (bleep) who will tear this (bleep) apart. Believe me, I will do it and you will not be happy.


"Saturday Night Live's" take on the growing scandal in Illinois. And right now, the governor of that state, Rod Blagojevich giving no indication when or even if he will resign despite the fact that the world around him is falling apart fast. In fact, yesterday, Illinois general -- Illinois' attorney general told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Blagojevich could resign today. Let's listen.


LISA MADIGAN, ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have heard that there is a possibility that tomorrow he will make an announcement that he will step aside.


CHETRY: Well, the governor's spokesman says that he has "no plans of resigning."

Joining me live now to talk about it is "Chicago Tribune" reporter Rick Pearson. First of all, let me say I'm so sorry you're standing outside this early in Chicago, but you're a hearty type. I'm sure you'll be fine.

Let me just ask you about this. The attorney general is going on national television saying there's a possibility or that she's heard he could resign. His office is saying no plans to. What's the story?

RICK PEARSON, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, it sounds like the attorney general may have tried to interpret something from a tabloid Chicago newspaper report that said that the governor was considering resigning. And, of course, he's considering resigning. He's also considering not resigning as well.

CHETRY: He also spent eight hours yesterday with a high-profile criminal defense attorney, Ed Genson, yesterday. And he said that he and the governor will make a mutual decision today. If you're reading into that, what would be the implication of this high-profile -- I think this gentleman also represented R. Kelly in his criminal case?

PEARSON: Yes. And he also represented one of the co-defendants with the last Illinois governor, George Ryan. Ed Genson is a trial attorney. He's not a guy who's known for pleading out any cases. So certainly if Rod Blagojevich is meeting with that gentleman, that's an indication that he wants to go to trial and fight these charges.

CHETRY: And possibly stay, I mean potentially stay in the governor's mansion?

PEARSON: Yes, I mean there's a lot of people who are speculating that, you know, one of the things that was in that federal criminal complaint was the fact that Blagojevich indicated that he had had money problems. And there's a lot of people who believe that he's going to try to hang on to this job in any way in order to keep that paycheck coming.

CHETRY: Meanwhile, this is going to be at the very least a distraction right now for President-elect Barack Obama. He's been dogged with questions about what contact if any his team had with Blagojevich. What more can Obama and his people do at this point to put some distance between himself and the scandal?

PEARSON: Well, you know, it's a very interesting question. I mean, right here at the Illinois state capital in Springfield, the day is actually going to start with Illinois' electors to the electoral college casting their votes for Barack Obama. And we're immediately going to move from that kind of ceremonial event to discussions about impeachment of Rod Blagojevich.

Certainly there are a lot of questions swirling around the issue of whether Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff of the incoming president, was involved in any kind of discussions. We know the tribune reported over the weekend that he is on some of those secret tape recordings, but there's no indication that he was any part of that dealmaking that federal prosecutors alleged Blagojevich did in trying to sell the seat.

CHETRY: Right. All right. Well, you talk in your latest article for the tribune about Illinois' culture of pay to play. You write, "Federal authorities say Governor Rod Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on state government. But in many ways, the sign had been hanging there for year. There's a reason Illinois has a long history of scandal: the political machinery runs on money."

Is this high-profile scandal that we're seeing now going to finally put an end to this? Change things, if you will, shake things up in Illinois?

PEARSON: Well, Illinois is one of the few states that has no limits on campaign donations. And that's just been a way for its top politicians to go to people that do business with the state and try to wring campaign contributions out of them. People have talked for years about ethics reform. They've been kind of working around the edges on this. And it's really, I think, once they get a sign if the public is truly fed up that they may start actually taking some real steps toward putting some limits on donations.

CHETRY: All right. Well, it's great to talk to you this morning. How cold are you, by the way?

PEARSON: It's 12 degrees, about the same what it was when Barack Obama was here in Springfield to announce in February 2007.

CHETRY: Yes. But you haven't even zipped your coat up all the way and you have no hat on either.

All right. Rick Pearson, political reporter with the "Chicago Tribune," thanks for being with us this morning. Good to talk to you.

COSTELLO: Rick is tough. Wow.

CHETRY: He is.

COSTELLO: Just about half past the hour now. Checking our top stories. It's the video everyone is talking about.

President Bush ducking some unfriendly fire in Iraq after an Iraqi journalist throws a pair of size 10 shoes at him during a press conference and yelled in Arabic, quote, this is a farewell, dog. In Arab culture, throwing a shoe is the rudest of insults.

Also this morning, we're learning India's air force began preliminary preparations for a possible attack against Pakistan after last month's massacre at Mumbai. Pentagon officials say India's air force was quote, on alert. Until now, the Bush administration has publicly said it saw no signs India's government was preparing any type of retaliation.

It appears the future of Detroit's big three auto makers rests in the hands of the White House. President Bush says the administration is working on a way forward to keep the auto industry afloat. No announcement expected today but the president said using money from that $700 billion Wall Street bailout for emergency loans to car makers is still on the table.

Turning to the most politics in the morning, today President- Elect Barack Obama holding a critical meeting. In just a few hours, he'll meet with the people who will advise him on how to keep the country safe. The powerhouse roster includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State nominee Senator Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security nominee Governor Janet Napolitano. CNN's Brianna Keilar live in Chicago this morning.

So will bringing out this powerhouse team kind of take the spotlight away from Blagojevich and put it on Obama and his transition team, do you think? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would certainly be very difficult to do that, but no doubt, that's the hope of the president-elect, to turn attention toward national security.

This is of course an incoming administration at day one will face two wars, a nuclear threat from Iran, a recent high-profile attack, a terrorist attack in India, the list really goes on and on, but it's going to be, quite frankly, impossible for President-Elect Obama to get out from underneath the shadow of this Blagojevich scandal.

That's because there are some unanswered questions, unanswered questions about what conversations went on between Obama's staff and the governor's staff about who will replace Obama in the Senate, of course the seat that Governor Blagojevich is accuse of selling.

On Thursday, President-Elect Obama said that basically there was an internal investigation going on to get some of those answers and he would be sharing that information in the next few days. Well, Carol, it's been a few days and no word from the Obama administration on when we're going to be hearing that information. These conversations wouldn't necessarily be unusual or inappropriate. There's no allegations of wrongdoing, but there's still a question mark. And until it's addressed, there's still going to be a lot of attention on it.

COSTELLO: Is it possible that Federal investigators said to Obama's staff, don't talk publicly about this?

KEILAR: There's so many different reasons we've been hearing from people who will just give insight into whether or not you come out and you know address these questions outright. There's so many different reasons. That would obviously be a bit of speculation to say that. But there's many different reasons that it could happen, Carol and we just don't know at this point, but we're waiting to hear that information to see what conversations did take place between the president-elect income administration and the governor's staff.

COSTELLO: Brianna Keilar, live in Chicago this morning, again you can see President-Elect Barack Obama's press conference today at 5:00 pm Eastern right here on CNN. You can also hear it on

CHETRY: All right, well survival guide to layoffs. What you should do if you lose your job. Our personal finance editor Gerri Willis will be along with a special series on this.

Also the folks at "Saturday Night Live" taking some heat for mocking New York Governor David Patterson who is legally blind. Did their weekend update segment go too far? The governor responds this morning, 34 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. How to survive a layoff. Personal finance editor Gerri Willis has some important advice for us all this week in a special series and this morning's first installment deals with what to do if you're worried you're about to lose your job. Gerry is here with some advice and some tips, things to keep in mind if you see the writing on the wall if you will at your company.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are important moves to make right now if you're just worried you're going to lose your job. Check this out with some numbers though first. We know right now 1.9 million Americans unemployed.

Expectations are out for the end of the year. By the end of the year, there will be some 2.4 million folks unemployed, next year, another 2.7 million people unemployed. You're going to have lot of competition out there if you lose your job. So what do you do now if you're worried? Number one, get a savings cushion. It's essential to have money to pay the rent or the mortgage, put food on table, keep the kids going to school if you lose your job.

Now I'm talking about emergency savings here, if you're sure you're going to lose your job. Stop contributing to the 401(k). Put that money in a savings account instead. It's absolutely essential you have it. Otherwise you're probably heading for bankruptcy if you're unemployed any amount of time.

Use up the health care benefits that your employer is paying for right now. It's essential you go out and get those specialty exams, just a basic health care exam because after you're unemployed, you don't know what kinds of health care coverage you're going to have. Also get the money out of that health savings account, use all that up before the end of the year. You've got to do that anyway because you use it or lose it with that money.

Also, here's something a lot of people don't think about and I know you're interested in this. If you've been in a job a long time, it's all about your contacts, right? A lot of people out there, they have Rolodex's that are kind the sum of their entire career, right? The day you lose your job, it may be tough to get that out of the building, so take it home now. Get that information home now, download your PDA, download your laptop at home. But let me tell you, if you work for a big company, the rooms are going to be full of security, folks. You will not be able to get that stuff out, it could be very difficult.

Also right now, one thing to keep in mind, managers across the country right now, they're making up lists of people they're going to lay off before the end of the year. You got to make sure you're not on that list, right? So there's some essential things you want to think about right now. Be sure you're on the projects that are getting noticed across the company, the most important projects out there.

Be sure that people all over the company know your name. Maybe get on a project that is with another department on the other side of the building. People need to know who you are, of course, contacts across the industry and the company. You want to make sure that people you've known for years, you're in touch with them. People you knew at the beginning of your career so you have contacts inside the company, but also outside the company. CHETRY: All right, great advice. Just a question because I know some states are running out of unemployment benefits. Let's say you're already laid off. What happens then?

WILLIS: The good news here is that these states will simply borrow from the Federal government to be able to cover your unemployment. As you probably know unemployment benefits have been extended longer, six to 13 weeks. So the typical was 26 weeks, you remember that. Well now it's longer by -- depending on where you live, six to 13 weeks. There is more money for folks out there who are unemployed. That's the good news out there.

CHETRY: All right, Gerri Willis, some great advice, a little bit morbid this morning, but you know what, this is very practical.

WILLIS: This is reality unfortunately.

COSTELLO: I need a shot of something extra in my coffee.

CHETRY: Gerri is blogging throughout the show by the way so if you do have a question for her, maybe something more specific, send it to her, She's going to go jump online right now and she'll try to answer as many as she can get to. Also tomorrow in her second part of the series, Gerri has a checklist for surviving the day you're laid off.

COSTELLO: Cold and dangerous temperature gripping parts of the nation as thousands are stuck in the cold and in the dark. We'll get the latest on the extreme weather from Rob Marciano. It's 40 minutes past the hour.


COSTELLO: An avalanche in the Utah mountains has turned deadly. Yesterday, two-foot wall of snow buried a female skier at a resort in Salt Lake City. Took rescue teams an hour to reach her. She later died at the hospital. A second avalanche buried another skier, but he was dug out alive by his friends.

More than a foot of snow and temperatures that feel like 40 below are paralyzing parts of North Dakota. Over the weekend, a blizzard dumped more than 13 inches of snow, knocking out poor and shutting down some highways. Right now, the temperature is about 21 degrees below zero. But when you factor in the wind chill, it's even colder than that.

And right now, the National Guard and power crews are scrambling to clear debris and restore power after a massive ice storm coated New England. Hundreds of thousands are still in the dark. President Bush has declared a state of emergency in parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Take a look at some of these images from our I-reporters. You can see branches down and the ice is coating everything from cars to power lines to homes. It's just nasty out there. Let's head to Atlanta and Rob Marciano. And Rob, isn't it kind of early for this kind of weather?


CHETRY: "Saturday Night Live" is at it again but did they go too far this weekend? New York Governor David Patterson responding this morning to the "SNL" segment that poked fun at his blindness.

Also, Senator John McCain opening up about his former running mate's future. Hear what he had to say when he was asked if he would support Sarah Palin for the White House in 2012. It's 46 1/2 minutes after the hour.



"SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" FROM NBC BROADWAY VIDEO: The president-elect must be prepared to help this state face a grave economic crisis. It's bad out there, Seth. If you don't believe me, take a look at this graph that I got here. Now -- it shows that unemployment in 2008 --

Governor -- it's upside-down.

You bet it is.


CHETRY: Well, that was Fred Armisen playing New York Governor David Patterson who in real life is legally blind. The skit failed to amuse the governor and he is responding today. For more on that, I'm joined now by Alina Cho and he's not somebody who takes himself too seriously, but I think he felt that this really crossed the line.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yeah. Some people say take a joke. Other people do say it did cross the line. You know Kiran, the New York governor is known for having a very good sense of humor, even makes fun of his own blindness himself, but it is clear that Governor Patterson believes that "SNL" stepped over the line when it portrayed him as blind and bumbling. Take a look at the clip and see for yourself.


"SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" FROM NBC BROADWAY VIDEO: I was not supposed to be your governor. I kind of fell ass backwards into this about 10 months ago due to a sex scandal that I was miraculously not at the center of. Come on, I'm a blind man who loves cocaine who is suddenly appointed governor of New York. It's like an actual plot from a Richard Pryor movie.


CHO: What do you think? A spokesperson from the governor's office said quote, the governor is sure that "Saturday Night Live" with all its talent can find a way to be funny without being offensive. According to "The New York Times" the governor himself was less direct when asked whether he was offended saying quote, I run the place that I work in so I don't have to worry about being discriminated against. The point is, a lot of people who don't get promotions and don't get opportunities and don't even get work are disabled in our own society.

The National Federation of the Blind says it considers the skit an attack on all blind Americans. Now we have reached out to both the governor's office for further comment and "SNL" for a response. We have not yet heard back from "SNL," but it does raise an interesting question. When you are an elected official or a celebrity, you certainly open yourself to ridicule. It comes with the territory.

You look at someone like Governor Blagojevich and Kiran, "SNL" made fun of his hair, his use of profanity over the weekend, even his wife and some people say that's OK. But with this, going after Governor's Patterson's blindness, that crossed the line. I mean he never asked to be blind. But having said that, other people say, you should be able to take a joke. Certainly "SNL" made a name for itself, became famous with its sort of cutting, biting humor so there are two sides to the story.

CHETRY: Absolutely. As I said before, we've interviewed the governor, he is somebody who is very jovial.

CHO: He does.

CHETRY: He doesn't take himself too seriously.

CHO: And he has made light of the fact that he is blind. He's made fun of himself on several occasions but he certainly believes in this case it crossed the line. And he said in a statement, that he even has some suggestions for "SNL" on how to be funny. Kiran?

COSTELLO: Not to interrupt, in the "The Daily News" the governor is quoted. I love to read the tabloids in the morning. He said I can take a joke but only 37 percent of disabled people are working and I'm afraid that kind of third grade humor certainly adds to this atmosphere. Let's just say I don't think it helps. That's what he told "The Daily News."

CHO: Because he thinks it's an attack on all blind people. And certain, he says in a statement that he can take the joke if it's just about him and he can make fun of himself but if you go after everyone, that's where it crosses the line.

CHETRY: Alina Cho, good to see you this morning. Thanks. It's 52 minutes after the hour.

Throwing insults, size 10.




CHETRY: Two big shoes hurled at the president.


BUSH: Do not worry about it.


CHETRY: We're live from Baghdad.

Plus, suddenly jobless, Gerri Willis has help. AMERICAN MORNING's layoff survival guide. You're watching the most news in the morning.


COSTELLO: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. President Bush says the White House is still working on a deal for Detroit's big three auto makers. Chrysler and GM say they could collapse within days and many are looking to the auto union to take cuts to pay and benefits so these companies can survive. Joining me now the president of the United Auto Workers union, Ron Gettelfinger. Thanks for joining us this morning.

RON GETTELFINGER, UNITED AUTO WORKERS PRESIDENT: Thank you, Carol. Thank you for having the UAW on.

COSTELLO: Any time. Have you heard from the White House at all?

GETTELFINGER: We have not heard anything about the discussions or what kind of restrictions that they're going to put on the loan, no, we have not.

COSTELLO: Because some Senate Republicans are saying that you have a direct line to the White House and you're getting information directly from it.

GETTELFINGER: Well, I think there's a lot of rhetoric going on out there, some political and for other reasons, but the facts are the facts. We have not heard directly from the White House in regards to any restrictions or negotiations that are required.

COSTELLO: Let's talk more about that rhetoric because Senator Corker accused the UAW of causing this deal with the Senate to fall through for a bailout for the big three. Let's listen to Senator Corker.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R) TENNESEE: All it did was ask that they be competitive, which is a pretty loose term, with BMW and Nissan, Honda and Toyota some time in the year 2009 as determined -- this to me, the kicker -- by the next Labor secretary who's going to work for an Obama administration.


COSTELLO: So you know, he's basically saying that the UAW wouldn't agree to take pay cuts and set a certain date to make their pay and benefits in line with, let's say, people who work at Toyota. You know, this is a time when a lot of people are afraid of losing their jobs. They really fear that. A lot of people have lost their jobs. So why not take these cuts and keep those jobs for your union workers.

GETTLEFINGER: Well, Carol, look, we took cuts in '03, '05 and '07. In fact, under our contract, no one will be getting a general wage increase through 2011. And in addition to that, everything that's been spelled out, we pretty much stepped up to.

COSTELLO: But if GM and Chrysler are saying they're going to go under very soon, why not take more cuts and be assured that your people have a job?

GETTELFINGER: Carol, we're working very hard in that regard. But listen to me. We're on third base. Nobody else is even in the ball park. Labor costs make up 10 percent of what a vehicle in production comes out with. So how can you take 10 percent and fix this problem? You can't. But see, here's the other thing. The UAW has been very, very responsible here. And we're having a hard time getting that message out. But we have been. And the men and women of the UAW work hard every day to make these companies competitive.

COSTELLO: Well, there's no doubt about that. "The Wall Street Journal" had an op-ed piece and they put it this way. They said the UAW chief was betting that the Bush administration would blink and that the union would get a better deal from the politicians than it would get from the marketplace or from a bankruptcy judge. It's a ploy we all learned in childhood. When dad won't give you what you want, you turn to mom.

GETTELFINGER: Well, that's ludicrous for anybody to even think that. Look, this is a very challenged market rate now. And we needed to get that emergency bridge loan as soon as we could. We preferred to get it out of the Senate. Let me ask this question. The White House and the congressional leadership come up with a compromise bill. The House of Representatives passed it overwhelmingly. Why do we have problems in the Senate? Somebody needs to be asking that question. There's no question there's a lot of politics going on here. But, look, of all people to have a direct line with the White House, it's certainly not me or the UAW.

COSTELLO: That's right because you haven't exactly been kind to President Bush in the past, but if he gives the big three auto makers some money, maybe you should send him a Christmas card.

GETTELFINGER: I wouldn't have problem with that but here's the thing about it. I want to say this on President Bush's behalf. The White House has kept their word throughout this process. It was the Senate Republicans that knocked us down.

COSTELLO: All right, Ron Gettelfinger.

Thank you so much for joining us this morning.